"Meditation is the art of focusing your attention so completely on one thing that you lose consciousness of everything else around you. Although meditation often is associated with religious disciplines, modern researchers have found that it can be used apart from any religious or philosophical orientation to promote deep relaxation and mental stillness.
What happens during meditation? University studies have shown that, among other things, heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure drop. Alpha brain waves-the brain waves associated with deep relaxation-increase in intensity and frequency. Blood lactate, a chemical associated with anxiety, has been found to fall rapidly within the first ten minutes of meditation." The Hope Heart Institute in Seattle Washington.
That has been my experience too along with the incredible, ongoing experience that meditation practices reconnect us with our Source. It doesn't matter what one calls that Source. Labels are nothing more than labels. Our Source is beyond labels, beyond concepts, beyond definitions, beyond philosophies, and everything else you can think of.
Our Source is a divine experience of bliss and love that we can revel in 24 hours a day. 24 hours a day-while we are playing, working, eating, loving, sleeping, or talking! Meditation removes everything that prevents us from experiencing this bliss and love that we truly are at all times. Meditation melts away fear, impatience, greed, anger, lust, poverty-all limitations.
Meditation is unique for every person. While there are some classic experiences that can be common to many, meditation brings you the experiences you need to return to Source. There is no fast path. As stated below, meditation requires commitment. Without commitment there is no progress.
Along with commitment, discrimination is very important. This is where decisions to continue or abort a chosen path must be based on research and knowledge, coupled with your own experience. It is sometimes very easy to run away from something new (like meditation, sungazing, yoga, t'ai chi, new food programs, etc.) because things are uncomfortable in the short term, thereby denying ourselves of the ultimate long term benefits. Then again, it's definitely not helpful to stick with something just because we don't want to admit to ourselves that we made a mistake in going down a particular path. There is a fine line to walk and we must constantly choose and reevaluate our choices in light of our knowledge and experience.
How many of us are doing things today that we did as children either because we had no choice or the intelligence to make healthy choices? How much of our lives is really ours versus us playing out a scenario that started long ago, before we even knew what we were doing? How many of us were lucky enough to have parents who knew what they were doing? How many of us are willing to abandon our "habitual daily routines" for a life of freedom and adventure, constantly connected with Source.
Without commitment and discrimination you will stay stuck in a rut you think is normal daily living.
Hint: normal daily living is feeling every cell of your body vibrating with the energy of a thousand suns whenever you want.
Normal daily living is having a quiet, focused mind.
Normal daily living is seeing the life Source pulsating in everything your eyes behold.
Normal daily living is hearing inner music more divine than anything we have created with instruments.
Normal daily living is having loving relationships.
Normal daily is having everything you need and doing that, including work, which makes your heart sing.
Normal daily living in this way is only achieved through meditation.
Meditation is an adventurous voyage into your own sacred heart.
Meditation is a simple, yet profound, way of reclaiming you-mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
The only purpose of life is to reclaim our Divinty. Everything else is a "background activity". Everything else! Without meditation, you are not living a true life. You are not attaining your full potential no matter how healthy and successful you may seem to be.
Some classic texts on meditation include Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, Play of Consciousness by Swami Muktananda, Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama, and Miracle of Love-Stories about Neem Karoli Baba by Ram Dass. A more recent book that could be titled Everything One Needs to Know about Meditation and Then Some is The Heart of Meditation-pathways to a deeper experience by Swami Durgananda.
The following meditations are ones I have used on a regular basis and can attest to their power used individually, together, or in conjunction with any particular meditation practice you may currently enjoy. Dive in! Discover the wonders of your physical body, the intricacies of your invisible mind, the grandeur of your loving heart, the sacredness of your soul, and the bliss of your being.
Choose a clean, quiet place. If in your home, make it somewhere you can sit everyday. The energy of meditation will build in that spot and facilitate your practice each and every day thereafter. If needed to block disturbing noises, use some peaceful music conducive to deep relaxation. Otherwise, sit in silence.
Sit in a chair, preferably with arms for longer periods of meditation, or on the floor in a comfortable, cross legged position. If you need to, put pillows under your knees for support. You can also sit up against a wall for back support. Sit on a pillow(s) that keeps your hips higher than your knees and supports your back. A Zafou is perfect for this and can be found on many internet sights. A silk or wool blanket or mat on top of the pillow will help keep the energy of meditation circulating in your body. You can also lie down if you won't fall asleep. Meditation is not about losing consciousness. It's about becoming conscious. If you do fall asleep at first, it's OK. It will be a different sleep.
Sit up straight but not rigid. The energy of mediation follows the spine, from the base upwards to the crown. Join your thumbs and index fingers together in chin mudra. This too keeps the energy of meditation circulating in your body. Rest your palms downward on your legs. You can also simply rest one palm on top of the other, face up in your lap. Drop your chin a little and relax the back of your neck. Let your lips part ever so slightly, relaxing your tongue and jaw. Mentally scan your body from head to toe and let go of any tension. Just breathe into it.
Imagine the in breath is going into those places that are tight and tense and opening them up and then, the tightness and tension or pain leave on the out breath. You can also imagine that your entire body is hollow. You are simply breathing air into air. There is nothing inside you to be tight or tense.
Then, without controlling your breath, simply observe it. Let it flow in and out at whatever rate is natural. But watch it. Follow it all the way in to that space where it stops for a moment before it flows out and then follow it all the way out to that space where it stops for a moment before it flows back in. Become very aware of the breath and the spaces between the breaths. Relax deeper and deeper with each breath.
Sometimes it helps to relax and focus the mind by giving it a word or phrase to repeat. Anything of a very high vibration consistent with your beliefs will do. Repeat the word(s) Ham Sa (the natural sound of the breath which means I am That-Ham as you breathe in and Sa as you breathe out), love, Christ, Jesus, Allah, Om, I Am, Om Namah Shivaya (I honor the God within me), Peace, or whatever is comfortable and meaningful for you. Repeat it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Eventually the words will fall away. They are just a tool to relax your mind. When your mind becomes restless again, start repeating the word or phrase you have chosen and let it help still your mind.
Do not give up. Your mind will not become quiet immediately. This is a lifelong practice that is absolutely necessary to a fully functional and blissful life that is not dependent on anything outside yourself to create health, wealth, bliss, and fulfilling your service on earth. Start with just 5 minutes a day. Add a minute a day until you reach 30 minutes. Then sit for 30 minutes twice a day-once upon arising and once before retiring. You can even practice whenever you get 5 minutes or so. For instance, meditate when you get somewhere early for an appointment, after meals, or waiting for someone who is late (instead of getting upset). Be creative. While 5 minutes may seem like 5 hours when you are beginning, 1 or even 2 hours of meditation will eventually go by like 5 minutes and leave you feeling better than ever.
The Inner Smile Meditation
Smiling is miraculous. It takes far less effort and far less facial muscles to smile than to frown or just be without a smile. Don't you feel your whole face light up whenever you smile?
Have you ever seen pictures or been in the presence of saints and fully realized Masters? Their smile is ever present, even when they're not smiling. You can see they have tapped into a realm of happiness, actually a cavern of bliss, deep inside themselves that is always there.
And that inner smile is always there in you too! You just have to know how to access it.
It's one of the great secrets of t'ai chi-focusing on the inner smile in the lower abdomen (the t'an t'ien located about 2 inches below the navel). With practice, you'll be able to focus on this inner smile at any time and thereby instantly change how you mentally, emotionally, and physically are processing specific events in your life that may be temporarily causing you to do something other than smile.
Sit quietly. Take several deep relaxing breaths through your nose. Rub your palms together and create some warmth. Place one palm on each side of your face and start making circles outward with them, massaging your face. Then, consciously relax your forehead, eyebrows, and skin. Imagine an inner smile deep in your abdomen. Allow this smile to move up through your heart and throat into your face. Let this "happy feeling" smile into your lips, eyes, cheeks, and forehead. This smile will activate the thymus gland which in turn strengthens the immune system. Continue smiling into your body and become aware of more and more parts smiling and smiling.
Keep smiling. The physical act of smiling can reach and dissolve unwanted patterns that have frustrated other forms of therapy, if done with proper focus. And remember, anything that is keeping you from smiling is not really you. You are laughter. You are love. You are light. You are energy. It's time you experience yourself for who you really are. It's time to wake up and smile!
You may wish to try the Light of Smiles by Paramahansa Yogananda, an affirmation to meditate, dwell on, and practice every day!
"I will light the match of smiles. My gloom veil will disappear. I shall behold my soul in the light of my smiles, hidden behind the accumulated darkness of ages. When I find myself, I shall race through all hearts with the torch of my soul-smiles. My heart will smile first, then my eyes and my face. Every body-part will shine in the light of smiles.
I will run amid the thickets of melancholy hearts and make a bonfire of all sorrows. I am the irresistible fire of smiles. I will fan myself with the breeze of God-joy and blaze my way through the darkness of all minds. My smiles will convey His smiles and whoever meets me will catch a whiff of my divine joy. I will carry fragrant purifying torches of smiles for all hearts."
Nei Gung Meditation
I learned this meditation from Justin Stone, one of my t'ai chi teachers. I practiced it every night before going to sleep for many months. After several rounds of repeating the phrases, I would fall asleep and sleep very peacefully. Then, one night, I decided I wasn't going to simply fall asleep while repeating the phrases. I was going to keep repeating them over and over again, all night if necessary, until something happened-until I had an experience of something other than falling asleep.
I don't remember how many repetitions it took (somewhere between 11 and 20) but at one point, the repetitions stopped and every cell of my body filled with this delicious, vibrating energy. I could feel this energy vibrating in every cell. It was wonderful. And my sense of hearing was heightened. I could hear sounds that were heretofore inaudible from other parts of the house and outside. I was in awe and though I tried to hold on to this incredible awareness, I drifted to sleep. And I've never had a problem falling asleep since. Once my head contacts the pillow and I repeat Om Namah Shivaya a few times, I'm asleep. Since this night, I've only used this meditation on a few occasions when I've really felt like something was stuck in my life.
Before going right into the meditation, here's a brief history of its origin.
In the 1700's, Zen Master Hakuin's emotional and physical health had seriously deteriorated to the point where he said:
"Activity and non activity had become entirely out of harmony. My heart began to make me dizzy, my lungs became dry, both my legs felt as cold as if they were immersed in ice... My ears were filled with a ringing as of the rushing waters of a swift river in a deep canyon. My liver felt weak and, in my behavior, I experienced many fears. My spirit was distressed and weary and, whether sleeping or waking, I always became lost in wild fancies. Both armpits were perpetually bathed in sweat and my eyes were continually filled with tears."
Having heard rumors of a wise man who possessed the secret of health and long life, Hakuin sought the assistance of the legendary sage Hakuyu. Hakuyu, seeing that not even the most famous physician would be able to cure Hakuin, gave him the secret Nei Gung meditation. Contemplate these words from Hakuin's diary after he practiced this meditation with great diligence for three years and imagine what it may do for you.
"At first, my main object in carrying out this method was the simple one of health preservation. But... I discovered that my power of understanding was enlightened by it... The illness, which had till that time been practically incurable, now began to melt away like frost or snow in the morning sunlight. Poisonously hard problems, difficulties of faith, difficulties preventing me from penetrating through to the truth,... and difficulties which hindered the beginning periods of meditation... -all of them, without exception, were softened and alleviated together with my bodily sickness and they melted away like ice. And now, when I have passed the average length of man's life, I have ten times as much vitality as I used to have when I was only thirty or forty years of age. Now my body and soul are both healthy and strong."
With your legs pressed together, either lying down or sitting in a chair, mentally repeat the following affirmations, over and over, until sleep intervenes or your mind has become peaceful and your body filled with energy. Your attention should be just under your navel or at the soles of your feet. Contemplate what they mean.
1. This Energy Sea, this Tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of my Original Face; where are the nostrils on that Face?
2. This Energy Sea, this Tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of my True Home; what need of a message from that Home?
3. This Energy Sea, this Tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of the Pure Land of Consciousness only; what need of outer pomp has this Pure Land?
4. This Energy Sea, this Tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of the Amidha Buddha of heart and body; what sermon would this Amidha be preaching?
This is something you can do anytime-between rooms in your home, outside, to and from a car, walking grocery store aisles, etc. Simply keep your awareness focused on the soles of your feet. Feel each foot hit the ground. Be aware. And like before, you can always coordinate a word with the feet hitting the ground if it helps focus your mind. You'll find when you walk this way, instead of thinking about what you just did or what you are going to do next, all your senses are heightened and you intuitively know just what to do when. Again, practice.
This meditation can be found in The Way of Energy by Master Lam Kam Chuen. This book contains detailed information on Zhan Zhuan (pronounced either Jan or Jam Jong), which means Standing Like A Tree, and some wonderful poetry on the nature of trees which can be used as contemplations while doing this incredible internal exercise. These postures can also be done simultaneously while sungazing (a very dynamic duo!).
Start by doing any combination of these poses for five minutes. I suggest doing one of each as each one has its own unique property. After three weeks, increase this to ten minutes, divided equally among the poses. Hold them for a total of 15 minutes the next three weeks, 25 minutes the following three weeks, and increase this to 25 minutes thereafter. 25 minutes is enough to refresh your entire system. At first 30 seconds may seem like lifetimes; five minutes may be torture. The boredom may drive you crazy. These reactions are simply the evidence of the constant tension in your nervous system and proof that you need this meditation/exercise! Once I attained 25 minutes, I stopped holding these postures for this length of time as an every day practice. I continue to use the postures at the end of my qigong workouts and in connection with sungazing.
With legs still shoulder width apart, toes forward, knees bent, and weight equal on both legs and equal between the balls and heels of the feet, completely relax-being careful not to extend your knees over your toes. Let your hands hang at your sides, palms toward your legs.
Imagine a string is attached to the top of your spine, in line with the tips of your ears at the top of your skull, effortlessly lifting and supporting. Let the bottom of your spine unfold downward so that neither your belly nor your bottom is sticking out. The tip of your head (above the tips of your ears), the t'an t'ien (the space about 2 inches below your navel and the power center of your body), and the mid point of your feet are in line. Your whole frame is suspended from the top of your head. You hang from it like a puppet or a garment on a coat hanger. From below your kneecaps, your roots extend downward. From your knees upward, you rise like a tree, resting calmly between the earth and the sky. Your eyes look forward and slightly downward. Drop your chin a little so that your throat is not pushed forward. Release any tension in your neck. Relax your hips and belly.
Let the breath be free to flow in and out at its own natural pace. Inhale and exhale gently through your nose only. Your mouth should be closed but not tightly shut. Don't clamp your teeth shut. If saliva forms, swallow it. Relax even more by telling any tight spots in your body that they are relaxed (i.e., "My knees are relaxed. My shoulders are relaxed.").
Imagine you're sitting on a huge balloon that takes your weight behind you, like a beach ball on the sand. There are also balloons behind your knees, totally supporting you.
Hold this first position for the desired amount of time. In all the positions, stand as still and motionless as a giant tree on a totally peaceful day.
Holding The Balloon
From the above pose sink down a little more-about two inches. Raise your arms to form an open circle in front of your chest at about shoulder level. Your open palms face your chest, fingers spread. The distance between the fingertips of your hands is the equivalent of one to three fists (3 - 9 inches). The tops of your thumbs are no higher than your shoulders. Your wrists are as wide apart as your shoulders. Your elbows are slightly lower than your wrists and shoulders. The inner angle between your upper arm and forearm is slightly more than 90 degrees.
Imagine you're holding a large inflated balloon between your hands, forearms, and chest. You are gently keeping it in place without tension. Your armpits and upper arms rest on two small balloons. Your elbows rest on two large balloons that float on the surface of a pond. The weight on your feet shifts slightly forward. Relax into it!
Holding Your Belly
You are now sinking down about 2-4 inches. Drop your arms so your forearms are in front of your abdomen, elbows flexed so arms are rounded, and thumbs about navel high, hands separated at least 6 inches and no more than body width between fingertips, with the fingers of each hand pointing toward the opposite knee. Fingers are kept separated just enough to allow little imaginary balls to rest between each of your fingers. With soft palms, imagine you are gently holding a large inflated balloon between your hands and your belly or gently supporting an enormous belly that you had developed. Imagine that a strap runs from your neck to your wrists, supporting them. You hold your belly or the balloon so gently that there is no tension in your wrists or fingers. Your palms are not turned sharply upward. They are loosely angled along the arc of the balloon or belly. The weight on your feet is equally proportioned. Relax into it!
Standing In The Stream
Sink down another 2 inches to a level of about 4-6 inches. Reach your hands out to both sides at waist height, imagining you are standing in a stream, with the current flowing toward you. Your palms and outstretched fingers rest parallel to the surface of the running stream. Imagine that you are holding two balls, keeping them steady in the flowing water. Concentrate on holding the balls steady as they try to float away with the current of the running water. Imagine all your weight is sinking down to the soles of your feet. Relax into it!
Holding The Balloon In Front Of Your Face
Raise your arms and turn your hands outward so that the backs of your hands are level with your cheeks. Allow your fingers to soften, curving gently and slightly apart. Your fingers are roughly at eye level-never higher than your head. Imagine that your wrists are supported by a strap that runs around the back of your neck. Your open hands hold an imaginary, inflated balloon in front of your face. Press gently outward on the balloon as if to push it away from you, but do not tense your muscles. Imagine you are guiding the balloon away from you. Your weight shifts back a little toward your heels. Relax into it!
Return to the beginning position with hands at the side for about 1 minute.
T'ai Chi and various Qigong practices are moving forms of meditation. They are an excellent way to still the mind while in motion; create a strong, flexible, and healthy body; open up the body's various energy channels; and prepare the body for deeper states of sitting meditation. It is my experience that someone who practices T'ai Chi, Qigong, or Yoga in addition to their other meditation practices, will make faster progress on their path to living in their true state of love and bliss at all times than someone who just meditates. I invite you to find a class with an experienced instructor instead of trying to learn from a video/dvd. You'll be glad you did!
Meditating on the Sun
There are several methods of sun meditation (sungazing), several chat rooms devoted to sungazing, and several websites with related information. Not all of the information is factual and it behooves anyone who decides to practice this ancient and life transforming technique to become informed by reading as much as they can and by talking with other experienced sungazers.
For an in depth discussion on Meditating on the Sun, please see my article with that title.
Proven Benefits of Meditation
People who meditate experience better health than others over a wide range of conditions.
Significantly more subjects in the relaxation group reported improved relationships, general health, and enjoyment of life.
Meditation has been shown to contribute to the development of life purpose and satisfaction which reduces depression and anxiety, the psychological end products of the stress response.
Meditation has been shown to have a positive impact on heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and metabolic activity, distribution of blood flow, muscle tension, and the alleviation of pain.
Meditation helps people observe and identify the characteristic thought patterns with which they respond to outer circumstances. Feelings from the past are often released. As these patterns are explored, people learn that it is possible to develop new ways of responding to outer circumstances.
Meditation has been shown to help reduce alcohol consumption and drug abuse.
Meditation brings about a reduction in artery wall thickening, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, decreased respiratory rate and oxygen consumption, increase regularity and amplitude of -EEG activity, reduced blood lactate level and other metabolic effects, along with the subjective experience of peace, relaxation, and contentment, and an increased responsiveness to stressful events with quicker recovery. While these effects are also characteristic of eyes-closed rest, or sleep, the majority of studies have found these effects to be greater in meditation.
Meditation modifies the depression of cellular immunity associated with stress.
Regular meditation has reduced plasma cholesterol and the number of cigarettes smoked.
To really supercharge your meditations and establish an instant and infinite awakening to your Divinity, I highly recommend finding a living Master who can ignite and guide your spiritual awakening to its blissful reunion with God. Use the meditation technique they gift you as your primary practice and supplement with other forms you find useful (perhaps some of the ones in this article).
May you too discover and experience what several enlightened Masters have declared: "The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam. Meditate on your own Self. Worship your Self. Respect your Self. God dwells within you as you."
Ganeshananda is a Shaktipat Meditation, Usui Reiki, and T'ai Chi/Qigong Master; an AVESA Quantum Energy Master and Medical Intuitive; Ordained TOSA and Science of Mind Minister; and Certified Quantum Clairvoyant.
He has been developing children's educational programs for over 20 years. He is the creator of Power Animal Frolics dvd-T'ai Chi/Yoga/Qigong for Children--and the author of over 44 Fairy Tales of the Heart for Children of all Ages.